President Obama has tapped one of his top Seattle political fundraisers, former Microsoft executive Suzi LeVine, to be the next ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
With the pick, announced last week, Obama continues a bipartisan tradition of awarding certain ambassadorships as rewards to political patrons. Since 1960, the Switzerland post has gone to career foreign service officers just twice, while being handed to political benefactors 20 times, according to the American Foreign Service Association.
LeVine, 44, was a member of the Obama campaign’s national finance committee. As a “bundler” of political donations, she raised at least $500,000 for the president’s re-election campaign in 2012. The New York Times, citing internal Democratic party documents, reported in September 2012 that LeVine had raised at least $1.3 million for Obama’s campaign since 2007.
If the Senate confirms her, LeVine will be “Ambassador to the Swiss Confederation and the Principality of Liechtenstein,” according to the White House nomination.
LeVine did not return an email and phone call requesting comment Wednesday. A White House spokesman responded on her behalf in an email, saying “as is typical, we’ll decline interviews while the nomination is pending before the Senate.”
No doubt the White House is hoping for better results than the last time Obama tapped a wealthy Seattle-area political patron for a plum European diplomatic post.
In 2009, Obama named Cynthia Stroum ambassador to Luxembourg. Stroum, who had been a major political fundraiser for the president, had no apparent expertise for the job. She admitted at a Senate confirmation hearing she’d never been to the country.
Two years later, Stroum resigned ahead of a State Department report that found her management of the Luxembourg embassy was marred by verbal abuse and questionable expenditures.
More recently, Obama’s patronage picks for some European ambassador posts have become a source of late-night television jokes. George Tsunis, a major Democratic donor who was named ambassador to Norway, was roundly mocked after bungling a Senate confirmation hearing last month. Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona said sarcastically at the end of that hearing: “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees.”
LeVine was part of Microsoft’s Windows marketing team in the 1990s, then went on to become vice president of marketing and sales at Expedia. She returned to Microsoft from 2009 until 2012 as director of strategic partnerships for student developers and director of communications for education. She co-founded the Kavana Cooperative, a Jewish nonprofit organization.
LeVine’s husband, Eric LeVine, is the founder of CellarTracker, an online wine-cellar management and tasting notes website.
The previous ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, former Virginia Lt. Gov Donald Beyer, a businessman, was also a major Democratic party bundler.